A Must-Read on the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Wars

Anyone with any interest in the fascinating and contentious red snapper-management wars in the Gulf of Mexico can't afford not to read Dr. Larry McKinney's thoughtful, reasonable commentary.

red snapper

States on Target with Red Snapper Management Plan

CCA writes: They say you know you are over the target when you start taking flak. If the ****hysterical reaction**** from the commercial fishing sector is any indication, it appears that the five Gulf state fisheries directors are on target with regard to their plan to assume management of Gulf red snapper. Federal management of red snapper has been a three-decade disaster of confusion and misguided regulations, and it defies belief that there are still those who see fit to defend that system to the bitter end. Of course, the most strident are the ones who have directly benefited from the federal management system and received ownership of public wildlife resources for their own use and profit, so perhaps their views should be taken with a grain of salt. On the other side of the spectrum, the state fisheries directors for the five Gulf states are professional stewards of the resource, with extensive training in wildlife management in general and marine science in particular. They know what they are doing. Their ****state-based management plan**** for red snapper is based on concepts they have used so successfully on species like red drum and speckled trout in the Gulf. Neither of those fisheries were subjected to privatization schemes and the states still managed to provide an unprecedented level of access for their citizens. All have been cited as tremendous conservation success stories. In contrast, the Gulf Council is on a completely different, twisted track and has resorted to a privatization scheme to limit the public's access to red snapper in the name of proper management. When it created the red snapper catch share program in 2006 and literally gave away shares of the red snapper fishery for free to commercial operators, the Gulf Council truly lost its way. All the criteria used by the state managers to create robust fisheries and maximum access for their citizens were replaced by pure, simple greed. Today less than 400 commercial operators own 51 percent of the entire red snapper fishery. Plans are in the works for some in the charter/for-hire fishery to own roughly another 20 percent. The hundreds of thousands of anglers not in these elite categories will be left with crumbs and 9-day seasons. Since the states unveiled their ideas for an alternative management solution for red snapper, the commercial fishing industry and some in the charter/for-hire industry have beaten down the doors of Congress to insist that the states' solution be burned down before it is even fully fleshed out. They are desperately trying to protect the incredible windfall that has been given to them in the federal system and have even resorted to calling recreational anglers "greedy." The irony that the beneficiaries of an egregious wildlife privatization scheme would label the only stakeholders not benefiting financially from that scheme as "greedy" appears lost on them. One might wonder why the state directors would volunteer for the monumental responsibility of rebooting one of the most mismanaged fisheries in the entire country and setting it on a sensible course, but the answer is simple. They know that it does not have to be so convoluted and difficult. They know giving away pubic wildlife resources to a few stakeholders who are easier to manage is betraying the public trust. They know there is a better way because they do it every day in their states. The answer to complicated fishery problems cannot be to funnel access through fewer and fewer lucky, wealthy entities and leave everyone else tied to the dock. As much as some people would like to distort it, the ends cannot be allowed to justify these means. If you agree, contact your Congressmen and let them hear the other side of this story. The state directors have acted with courage in offering an alternative to a shady federal management system and their ideas should be held up, not trampled by greed. Click the link below to log in and send your message:
https://www.votervoice.net/link/target/coastal/J5EWRJFbN.aspx Photo by Doug Olander
Doug Olander

When it comes to fisheries management issues in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m reminded of the message I’ve seen on certain bumper stickers. In this case: Larry McKinney said it; I believe it; that settles it.

Dr. Larry McKinney is the executive director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Formerly, he was the director of aquatic resources for Texas Parks and Wildlife. He’s been scientist, fisheries-policy maker and avid angler.

I can attest to the latter, having fished with (and been outfished by) the man.

But here, I simply want to share something McKinney wrote this week.

Much has been/is being/and will be written about the quagmire of federal management of Gulf red snapper. I have not seen anything yet that sums up the problem more succinctly nor by one who knows the issue so well from so many angles than the op-ed piece “Plan for red snapper smells fishy” that appears on houstonchronicle.com.

You can read McKinney's comments at **the**** **Houston Chronicle site****, or below. The main thing is that, particularly if you have any interest in the red snapper situation, in Gulf management generally or in this contentious issue — one of the most challenging in any fishery today — you should read this.

— Doug

Plan for red snapper smells fishy

By Larry McKinney

Published Sept 8, 2014, www.houstonchronicle.com

Red snapper is the most valuable fish in the Gulf of Mexico. Commercial fishermen seek snapper to meet the demands of restaurants all around the Gulf. For "headboats," the less than flattering moniker for those charter boats that leave out of popular tourist destinations carrying thousands to offshore waters, red snapper is the target of choice. Offshore anglers may seek kingfish, grouper, ling or billfish, but snapper is the box filler that makes any trip a success.

Perhaps that is the reason that management of these fish seems so impossible, even on the cusp of recovering this iconic economic engine of Gulf finfish. Giving credit where it is due, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council, led by the National Marine Fisheries Service, brought snapper back from a severely overfished state to what we have today. That is why it is so painful to watch both fumble on the one-yard line and utterly fail in the public trust bestowed upon them.

What we are on the brink of seeing in the Gulf is the near total privatization of the red snapper fishery. A key vote in October may leave 3 million recreational anglers with only 25 percent of the available red snapper coupled with an astonishing federal season projection - one-day-per-year. This privatization has already happened in the commercial sector, which has been allocated some 51 percent of all red snapper. There are very good arguments for this management approach, known as catch shares, and it certainly stabilized a chaotic derby-type fishery. It also created some very wealthy individuals at the expense of you and me, because it allocated a significant part of the fishery based on historic catch data, yet never considered that the resource being allocated belonged to the public.

What is being considered now is the allocation (read: privatization) of up to 25 percent of the remaining red snapper to charter fishermen, the headboat operators. This is a mistake. I admit to being conflicted in this, because as the head of fisheries in Texas for many years, I routinely opposed federal management actions that I felt unfairly treated Texas anglers. I am also a long-time supporter of these operators. They are, for the most part, industrious, conservation-minded individuals who are the backbone of the coastal fishery business.

However, this approach that essentially disenfranchises the recreational angler and takes away without compensation or consideration their No. 1 species of choice is unconscionable.

I do believe well-intentioned individuals in the fisheries service and organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund believe this is the path to conservation. They seem blinded to the fact that the economic viability of communities like Galveston and Port Aransas depend on the thousands of fishermen, of which headboats are but one sector. They ignore the fact that the anglers they are intent on disenfranchising fund and support the conservation efforts that sustain the entire Gulf fishery. Those who pay for a spot on a headboat and the businesses around them will greatly benefit if this policy is adopted. Those who have smaller boats that cannot go far offshore, the literally millions of anglers who are the foundation of our fisheries management and conservation around the Gulf, will be left on the outside looking in.

The Harte Research Institute ever strives to play the role of honest broker in Gulf issues that affect economic and ecological sustainability. Our scientists have provided data and tools, like iSnapper, that have been of great value to charter fishermen, recreational anglers and commercial fishermen. We will continue to be transparent in our efforts and assessment of both the science and policy that affect Gulf resources. We will also be diligent in pointing out where we feel policy or the science fail to advance that mission.

The current proposal to allocate red snapper is a poor one. But if made, the Harte Research Institute will work with all parties to make it as successful as possible. Nonetheless, it would be best to step back and look to other options before killing the goose that laid the golden egg - our recreational anglers.